Martha was unlike herself and she was glad for it. As was everyone else, though they were slightly surprised at her countenance. Ever the practical, calm voice of reason, she was nearly irrational, drunk with joy and happiness. But why should they be shocked? Martha had a world of reasons to act such as she did. Her brother was alive, the Master and his disciples were in her home, in the very next room, and she was preparing a fine supper for all her guests. Martha bustled about the small kitchen as quietly as she could, trying to listen to the Master speak in the adjoining room.
Mary, coming from her bedchambers, slipped quietly into the kitchen, startling Martha. “Mary!” she exclaimed. “I thought you were listening to the Master speak!” To be sure, it was strange that Mary was not at His feet. Martha’s eyes narrowed in on the hand hid from view under her sister’s tunic. “What do you have there?”
She kept her head bowed, avoiding Martha’s piercing gaze. “A gift.” Her voice was quiet, subdued.
“Oy gevalt!” Martha exclaimed. “Not another wasted portion of your hard-earned money for that shabby, smelly Tikvah!” She went back to chopping leeks for a soup, mumbling, “I think ‘Shawul’ meaning hairy little beast, would have been more fitting. ‘Precious jewel,’ indeed. Bah!” But this was said without its usual venom.
Mary smiled. The Master had begun a great work in Martha’s heart. He was not done, but the evidence of it was unmistakable. Mary herself had seen her sister giving scraps of food and bones to the scruffy little dog. But for once, her gift was not intended for the dog. She glided gracefully into the next room where the Master was speaking to a small crowd.
Being consumed with making the raisin cakes just right, Martha did not notice Mary’s absence. Nor did she realize that the Master had stopped speaking. But a loud crash did grasp her attention. She rushed to the adjoining room, only to stop quite abruptly in the doorway and draw in a sharp breath. But it was not the sight before her that rendered her speechless.
It was the fragrance. Martha knew that fragrance.
When Martha and Mary were still little girls, their parents had scrimped and saved to buy each of their daughters a vial of costly perfume. Martha’s vial purple and her oil smelling of exotic orchids. Mary’s vial was blue and her perfume scented with roses. The girls were to keep their vials of perfume until the day when each was to be wed. Then each would break their alabaster vials of pure, fragrant, costly perfume at the feet of their own husband, to signify the gift of themselves.
Now that their parents were dead, the perfume was a poignant reminder, to each woman, of the sacrifice of their loving parents.
A sharp voice brought Martha back from her reverie. “What a waste!”
Mary’s hands froze as she was drying her Master’s feet with her hair. Both she and Martha knew, without looking, who it was that spoke.
“Foolish woman! This could have sold for a large sum of money and been given to the poor!” Martha knew that Judas cared nothing for the poor. All of the disciples entrusted their money to Judas. Oftentimes, the money in the pouch around his waist got mixed up with his satchel of personal belongings.
Martha wanted to run to her sister. To comfort her. She knew what this act of reverence had cost Mary. Public display of strong emotion was not Mary’s way; she was shy. Also, the sentimental value of the vial of perfume was likely not easy to overcome. But the emotions in Mary’s heart must have been similar to her own. And, such as hospitality was Martha’s way of showing her sentiment, this had been Mary’s deed of worship.
Mary kept her head bowed and she sat back from the Master. But Martha saw the anger flash in his eyes. He reached out a hand and gently placed it on Mary’s head. “Leave her alone. She has done a good thing for me. She has anointed and prepared me for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but I will not always be here.”
Judas flinched and color rushed to his face.
Mary dared to look up at Jesus’ face. His eyes read love and compassion, understanding and thankfulness. The aroma of roses hung in the air around Him. The Master reached down and picked up a diamond-shaped blue shard of alabaster. Then he pressed it into Mary’s hand with a smile. A remembrance of her gift to the Master.
* Based on John 12:1-8 *
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I love the contrast you placed in this story. Martha's love the Master, Mary's love for the Master and Martha's love of Mary. Beautifully written, I think you have placed a different spin on this story, and it really gave it life and made it shine!
This is a cleverly written illustration of the love for Jesus by Martha as well as Mary. I never really thought about the deep love and devotion Martha had for our Lord, but it was apparent in the bible that Jesus was very close to her, as well as to Mary. It shows the love and devotion of the two sisters and reminds me of my love for my own 2 sisters. Well, done! It was a pleasure to read. Sincerely, Constance